THEOSOPHY, Vol. 28, No. 12, October, 1940
(Pages 553-555; Size: 10K)


THE great mysteries of Life and Death present to the materialist a question of survival which, on his own terms, can never be decided. For if death were actually the finality of all existence, there would be no means of ascertaining the fact. The philosophy of materialism is purely negative -- a reductio ad absurdum. In it the reason is used to extinguish all consciousness of any higher form of Life than Human Nature. Morally regarded, this conclusion leads logically to soul-suicide.

But an equally clear logic applies to the opposite conviction -- the belief on the part of the majority in soul-survival, without experimental knowledge of the fact. On due consideration it should become evident that all experimental knowledge springs from faith guided by reason. Faith is natural to mankind, while doubt, distrust and materialism are artificial in that they are in every case due to disillusionment, i.e., the loss of that which was before relied upon. Believer and disbeliever alike ignore the important fact that most of the supporters of materialism are recruited from those who were formerly of the opposite persuasion. And those who continue in any of the numerous forms of spiritualism as the antithesis of materialism have to consider their own faith as in some sort a divine dispensation, and materialism as a divine infliction -- both, in the last resort, as a mystery. There are innumerable illustrations of this strange anomaly of the religious mind on the defensive against materialistic intrusions, lest it, too, become subverted and betrayed.

These generalizations of the two poles of universal experience are embodied in the traditions and myths, the sacred writings and philosophies, the arts and sciences which measure and record the rise and fall of peoples and their cultures -- their civilizations. One and all they betoken birth, life, faith -- the energy that springs from faith, passing through creative, satiated, then sceptical, finally disillusioned and despairing stages, and then death -- extinction, so far as human vision extends.

But how far does "human vision extend"? The question is important, for every man "goes by what he sees." The problem has to be solved individually, if solved at all, although the problem itself is universal. Every problem is, of necessity, the formulation in known terms of apparently unrelated factors, but its solution requires the reconciliation of all the factors, the reduction of hitherto meaningless combinations to intelligible order. This is but another way of postulating that every problem is under law -- that when the cause is understood, the effect can be foreseen.

When one examines critically his own understanding, and, consequently, his conduct, he is generally amazed by the extent of inconsistency that his life reveals. The average man emphatically affirms his conviction of "the reign of law in everything and every circumstance," yet he acts in large part on the notion of accident, chance, fate, fortune, miracle. All these words and many more of allied nature represent inconsistencies in the use of his own powers, faculties, instruments. If the idea of law is to be regarded as supreme, then the knowledge of law is the extinction of far more than simple nescience; it is the extinction of misconception springing from erroneous perception -- extinction in both cases in the same sense as the presence of light is the extinction of darkness.

Darkness brings to the child the extinction of all that it knows, of all on which it has relied. The child in the dark is alone, left to itself, having to feel its way. So, of the materialist one may say truly that he is as a blind man in the light of faith, and of the simple believer that he is a child feeling his way in the world spiritual. Human vision can be directed toward the horizon we call birth or toward the horizon we call death. In the one case there is the gradual extinction of the light of memory, in the other of the light of imagination. As to what is beyond these horizons the human being has only hearsay "whereon to stand." Out of this secondhand material the average man constructs or adopts the mental and moral position of either spiritualism or materialism. Either position is of necessity insecure because both deny the fundamental characteristic of human consciousness -- the desire or will to experience, to learn, to know for oneself.

What we call knowledge is the very essence of all Being, as experience is the very aliment of all Existence. These two -- knowledge and experience -- are as inseparable as what we are accustomed to speak of as matter and energy in terms of sense, as pleasure and pain in terms of sensation, as good and evil in terms of morality, as cause and effect in terms of reason, as birth and death in terms of Life as we know it. So fixed is our concern with one or the other of these two poles or alternating phases of human existence that we are unable or unwilling to consider Self as distinct from them, but are absorbed in them far more than observant of them.

Herein lies the clue, the Ariadne's thread of emancipation for  both the agnostic and the believer from the labyrinth of ignorance, in which the one sits him hopelessly down, while the other wanders hopefully on: the simple recognition that neither scepticism nor faith can suffice in a world of knowledge. That this is a world of knowledge as well as a world of experience is an indisputable fact to every human being. That there are other and higher forms of experience and therefore of knowledge possible to every man is or should be the natural lesson of human existence.

What actually distinguishes the theosophist from other men is his greater or less degree of mental emancipation from fixed opinion. His confidence in popular "finalities" has been destroyed by shock or dissipated by reflection; hence, his judgment is in suspension. Only then, whatever the conditions of his environment -- his "Karma," -- only then does he actually reach the condition which in Occult language is called "Detachment." He faces his own ignorance, his own lack of sufficient knowledge to choose another than the directions traveled by his fellow men.

This perception is in fact knowledge of another sort, for from within himself arises a self-questioning rather than a query to some source external to his own consciousness. In such a communion there is neither prejudice nor preconception. It is the converse of self with self alone, instead of "the habitual, empirical order of perception." The "order" or mode of perception which enslaves mankind involves the identification of Self with the subject or object perceived.

Reflection brings the knowledge that Human Nature is neither wholly mental or psychic, nor yet wholly sensory or physical, but is sui generis -- that a third factor or element is present in the combination and is in fact the cause of human nature. That third member is consciousness. If self-consciousness proceeded from the body or physical form, then every form of matter would be self-conscious. We know that this is not the case; we know that man alone of all the kingdoms has the perception of self: Self-knowledge.

Man, then, is not blind to self, as are the other kingdoms, but like the child, is in the dark: he knows that he is, but does not know what he is. From this point of view it becomes evident that humanity, or "human nature," presents many degrees of realization. With very many, perhaps most men, that realization is limited to the pleasure and pain, the good and evil of the identification of self with objects of sense. With almost all others the realization extends to the identification of self with objects of psychic or mental perception. Borrowing analogies from the other kingdoms, one may well say that some men are in the "mineral" stage of self-consciousness, others in the vegetal, the animal, and finally, the spiritualistic or materialistic -- i.e., the "human" or "personal" stage or sub-state of self-consciousness. Is there a higher, a Divine or inclusive condition of Self-consciousness? The theosophist has begun to look in that direction.

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